Republican Senators Takes Sides on Arlen Specter Abortion-Judges Debate

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 15, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Republican Senators Takes Sides on Arlen Specter Abortion-Judges Debate Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 15, 2004

Washington, DC ( — In advance of a meeting with pro-abortion Republican Senator Arlen Specter about whether he should take the helm of the important Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican senators are already taking sides.

Alabama Senator JeffSessions, who is pro-life and a member of the judicial panel, told the Associated Press on Monday that he hasn’t decided whether Specter should get the nod but says it shouldn’t automatically go to the Pennsylvania senator because he is next in line by virtue of seniority.

"I’ve never felt we should feel especially obligated to do that," Sessions said about the seniority system. "You defer to seniority very strongly, but it’s also all right for the committee to want to be comfortable that the chairman would be a good leader."

Sessions told AP he understood that Specter had supported Bush’s nominees during his first term, but said Specter’s comments with reporters the day after the election that it was "unlikely" Bush’s pro-life judicial nominees would be approved were regrettable.

"I wished he hadn’t said it," Sessions said. "But if you read what he said in its entirety, it wasn’t a direct threat to the president, although it would have been better left unsaid. It may simply be that there’s a difference between being the chairman and making those statements and being a single member of the committee."

Meanwhile, Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, says he supports Specter as Judiciary Committee chairman.

"I believe he is capable, experienced and honest and I take him at his word when he says that President Bush’s nominees will receive fair hearings," Smith told Reuters Monday.

Smith is the sixth Republican senator out of the 55-member caucus to publicly support Specter.

While no senators say they officially oppose Specter, several, like Sessions, had admitted concerns and no one knows how the vote on his chairmanship, conducted by secret ballot, will turn out.

One Republican who is a member of the Judiciary Committee told Reuters that Specter would likely be approved, but conditions would be attached to his obtaining the post.

"I suspect he’ll make it. But members want assurances from him and we’re going to get those assurances," the unnamed senator said.

Alabama’s other pro-life Republican senator, Richard Shelby, also told AP he was concerned by Specter’s remarks.

"I remain committed to supporting judicial nominees that share a conservative philosophy and value the sanctity of human life," Shelby said. "I believe it is essential that the President appoint and the Senate confirm judicial nominees who are committed to upholding their role of interpreting and applying the Constitution rather than rewriting it."

Concerns rose shortly after the presidential elections when Specter said Bush’s pro-life nominees wouldn’t get approved by his committee.

Specter has since backpedalled from the remarks, saying he has supported pro-life judicial nominees in the past and would do so in the future. He also points to his support for Bush’s picks during his first four years.

Pro-life groups have waged an intense lobbying campaign asking Senate Republicans to prohibit Specter from becoming chairman.

Alternatives to Specter include allowing current chairman, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, to stay on for two more years, even though his term is limited. Other options include replacing Specter with pro-life Senators John Kyl of Arizona or Mike DeWine of Ohio.

Specter is scheduled to meet privately with Senate Republicans on Tuesday.